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Stormchaser

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The Wild Horses come through town nine months before Jesse is born.

He watches the clips played again and again. They're a ragtag group in denim, flannel, wide-brimmed hats. When the omnics stored in the region awakened and began to rumble, the Wild Horses were the second to react. While the omnics put their efforts into resisting the military, the Wild Horses scouted them, tracked them, ran circles around them. They blended into the landscape when the omnics looked for metal signatures, riding bareback at full gallop, throwing old-fashioned explosives, arranging decoys in the desert, setting traps.

The omnics caught on eventually, and any Wild Horse to get near them was shredded on the spot, but they'd whittled the forces down and bought precious time. Jesse's whole region is safe thanks to them, and the whole region memorializes them, reviving their ethos, wearing their clothes. Jesse's favorite clip is the one with a white-haired woman on a rearing appaloosa, four men reining in their horses behind her. One of them has hair that looks like his. 

One of those riders was his father, his mother claims; he doesn't know which one, and later he realizes she wasn't even sure what she said. He knows she works late at nights, but it takes a while for him to really know, thanks to a very, very kind old neighbor who babysat.

She dies. The neighbors start talking about how there's no one watching him. Jesse's mom moves to a little old house, with an old-fashioned storm cellar and everything, far out of town. Jesse brings his toy soldiers to the storm cellar and uses it for a playhouse. She's off with a client when Jesse is ten and the storm lands.

He's been sick, staying inside the whole day, sleeping, and he can feel an ominous weight to the air when he wakes up. The emergency warning kicks into his old westerns, and he gets up and goes to the door. It's been raining for days, but a new kind of chaos is ruling out there. The sky is gray-green, trembling with clouds, torn up over and over with flashes of lightning. The clouds are all coming from all directions, coalescing into a wide whirl high above. The rain and the wind change directions every second, plastering his clothes to his body. It's astounding. The lightning crashes, the thunder booms, and Jesse climbs up on the porch rail and leans way out into it, shouting and cheering into the sky. The house goes dark behind him. He doesn't care.

The twisters start miles away, but he can see them forming, whorling from wide-flung barrel shapes into thin, whisking columns. They're astounding. Incredible. Twin whirlwinds, dancing under the storm. He doesn't understand the scope of the destruction they're leaving. He knows town is that direction, but he doesn't know they cross town and he doesn't see the cars thrown into houses, the trees snapped and shattered, signs upended into gardens and crops thrown onto roofs.

Jesse McCree is still cheering and whooping when the twisters turn towards the house.

He probably would have gone into the shelter when the noise of them kept getting louder, but it's definitely the hail that saves him. He sees it whipping down over the fields in streaks of pearl. Marble-sized stones come pattering over the gravel drive and bouncing up the walk. They beat against his raised hands and bounce against the porch rail to pelt him. They're a snap back to reality, a cold wake-up call skittering off a column and skipping over the top of his head.

"Frazzle!" Jesse shouts, and runs to get the cat. It's a short search, even in the dark, he knows where it hides when it gets scared (sometimes he takes it and puts it there when he knows there's going to be fireworks.) He patters over the backyard with arms brimful of a terrified gray tom that is trying to pour out, bangs into the shelter, and slams the doors. The skies open up. Lightning cracks into the old tree by the drive. The cat wails in terror. Jesse screams in glee.

Less than three minutes later, the twin tornadoes come tearing across the fields. The little house might as well be paper in their path; were they capable of noticing, they still would not have seen it. The fence ends up splintered against the door of the shelter, where Jesse sits inside. He's as close to the doors as he can get, letting the water forced in by the angry sky pour over his cat scratches, shoulders shaking, still laughing with hysterical joy.

He gets his senses back by the time the firemen drive out to check, and with his mom still... somewhere off in the night... he ends up in foster care. By the time she gets back and looks for him, the social workers are feeling damned reluctant to ship him back.

It's okay. Jesse's new foster dad has a brother who wants a lookout. By the time he's eleven, he's been cut in. The uncle knows a friend who could use some help carrying a little bottle to some friends. Jesse gets half payment up front and leaves his childhood behind.

But Jesse never forgets the love he felt when he first saw those tornadoes forming out of that storm-torn sky.